Jesus: the Christ, John 1:19-28

25 April 2010, AM
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
Pastor Kevin A. Pierpont


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John 1:19-28

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

In the first 18 verse of John’s Gospel he’s made it very clear that Jesus is God. Verses 1-5 are some of the most powerfully clear words we have about the deity of Christ. Jesus is God in human flesh.

Now we arrive at verse 19 and we’re coming to the narrative portion of John’s Gospel and he returns to John the Baptist. Remember, earlier in verses 6-8 we were introduced to him. So now in verse 19 John the Apostle turns to the witness of John the Baptist and his witness is the same as the Apostle — Jesus is God.

Now, it’s amidst the narrative of the witness of John the Baptist we find the next name for Jesus we see in chapter one. It’s seen once in verse 20 and once in verse 25 — Jesus is the Christ.

So far in our study it’s been, Jesus: the Word, Jesus: the Light, Jesus: the Son of God and now it’s Jesus: the Christ.

As we look at the witness of John the Baptist, let’s first think about who he is.

John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus, is Jesus cousin and most agree he began his ministry at about 29 or 30 years of age. So he was born a bit before Jesus and he began his ministry a bit before Jesus.

He was also the son of a priest and he was likely well known, because Matthew 3 tells us that many people from Jerusalem and Judea and from all around those areas were going out to see John and hear him preach.

The likely reason for this is that there hadn’t been a prophet in Israel for over 400 years. So along comes this strong and dynamic individual who’d gone out and lived among the poorest people and was dressing like them and eating like them and was preaching and getting the attention of people — and don’t forget that he’d been filled with the Holy Spirit. We’re told in Luke 1:15,

15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

Here’s this individual, filled with the Spirit, he’s preaching, he’s certainly a unique individual that God has chosen to use and has greatly blessed and lots of people are taking note of him. So when we get to verse 19 in John chapter 1 what we find is starting to make sense.

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

This is the testimony of John. John is going to bear witness about who Jesus is. The priests and Levites are trying to figure him out and their thinking this fellow must be the Christ. He’s certainly somebody was their reasoning. He’s growing in popularity. His preaching had taken on the Jewish religious establishment. This guy was starting to make them uncomfortable. Something had to be done. “He’s not quite what we’re expecting. Let’s figure out who this guy is.”

So the Jews sent priests and Levites to ask John the Baptist who he was. This is referring to the Jewish religious leaders, and specifically when we see the term “the Jews” here, this is referring to those who were hostile toward Christ and his followers. Look at his answer in verse 20. This is interesting because he could have said many things that were true about himself, a few of which I’ve noted, but note that he doesn’t.

20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

Verse 19 started out, this is the testimony of John. What’s his testimony? It’s not about John. It’s about Jesus. I’ll tell you who I’m not. It’s not about me. I am not the Christ.

John clearly understood who he was — under Christ, he was a witness pointing to Christ. I am not the Christ he said.

Christ means Messiah. Warren Wiersbe explains,

Messiah is a Hebrew word that means “anointed,” and the Greek equivalent is “Christ.” To the Jews, it was the same as “Son of God” (see Matt. 26:63–64; Mark 14:61–62; Luke 22:67–70). In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed and thereby set apart for special service. Kings were especially called “God’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:11; Ps. 89:20); so, when the Jews spoke about their Messiah, they were thinking of the king who would come to deliver them and establish the kingdom. (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, electronic edition)

Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is the Christ. So John answers their question, since this is who they’re thinking he just might be, not by explaining who he is, but by telling them who he isn’t and in doing so he points to the true Messiah. I am not the Christ.

Then they ask him, verse 21,

21 …“What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

Don’t you love John’s answers. “I am not.” “No.” John is a witness. It’s not about Him, it’s about Jesus.

Let me encourage you with this. Your testimony is not about you. It’s about Jesus. Some of you, I know, have remarkable testimonies about how you came to Christ and remarkable stories about what the Lord has done in your life. But the most important part of your witness is Jesus. You need to tell people about Jesus; about who He is; about what He’s accomplished for you by His death and resurrection. Whether or not you have a remarkable story to tell about your life is not what’s important. Whether or not you will focus your life and witness on Christ is what’s important. Just make clear who Christ is.

So here are the religious authorities questioning John. “So you’re not the Christ.” Are you Elijah then? Why would they think he might be Elijah? John MacArthur notes here that,

Based on the prophecy of Malachi (3:1 and 4:5), the Jews expected Elijah himself to return in bodily form just before Messiah returned to establish His earthly kingdom. Even today many Jewish people leave an empty seat at the table for Elijah when they celebrate their Passover Seder. John’s appearance was strikingly similar to Elijah’s; according to Mark 1:6, “John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist,” while 2 Kings 1:8 describes Elijah as “a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.” John’s call for repentance (Matt. 3:2) and warning of coming judgment (Matt. 3:10–12) would have further reminded his hearers of Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 18:18, 21; 21:17–24). (John MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary, electronic edition)

In the literal sense John was not Elijah. They were expecting Elijah, so John says he is not. But there is a figurative sense where he is Elijah — where he is the fulfillment of this prophecy. Listen to Matthew 17:10-13 where Jesus is speaking,

10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

So Jesus interprets the Old Testament prophecy as meaning that there would be one like Elijah and John certainly preached with the same power and boldness as Elijah. So in a sense John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy (Mal. 3:1, 4:5), but not how the Jews expected.

So you’re not Elijah, “Are you the Prophet?” To which John replied, “No.

This question points back to the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, where he said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet”. This prophecy is not about John, it’s about Jesus. We know this because in Acts, both Peter (Acts 3:22-23) and Stephen (Acts 7:37) applied this to Jesus Christ.

Now look at verse 22,

22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

Their question is, who are you and what do you say about yourself? “OK, we give up with guess work. You tell us who you are.” Now when you look at verse 23 you’ve got to love the witness of John here.

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Their question was “what do you say about yourself?” and his answer again points to Christ. He doesn’t get into who he is, what he’s accomplished or where he’s come from, he just simply and humbly says “look, I’m a nobody, I’m just a voice”.

That’s just the kind of attitude God’s servants everywhere should have. In Luke 17:10, Jesus taught His followers that this was the attitude they should have,

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”

It’s also the same attitude demonstrated by others in the New Testament. We see it in Paul’s example in Ephesians 3:8 when he said,

8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

He also says of himself in 1 Corinthians 15:9,

9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

So we see here John’s humility in his response, that he is simply a voice, a witness. But note too that he is also a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. John is pointing back to Isaiah 40:3. In fact, all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) point to that passage and John the Baptist as the fulfillment of it.

But look at verse 23 again and note what John is doing here.

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Even in pointing out that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy he’s still pointing to the Christ. “I’m just a voice, and here’s what I’m saying, make straight the way of the Lord”.

What does that mean? It means, get your hearts ready for the Christ. It means get yourself prepared for the Messiah. John’s humility is clear here. It’s like he’s saying, “I’m just a part of the road crew making the road straight and flat for the Christ to come in on. I’m here to tell you to get ready for the Messiah.”

Now in verse 24 we learn that it wasn’t just the Jews who had delegates sent to question John, it was also the Pharisees.

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)

The Pharisees were a small group of Jews, but very authoritative. They insisted on strict interpretation of the law and careful observance of the law — not only the Old Testament laws but also laws that had grown from their many traditions. They were convinced their law keeping would make them righteous before God. We’ll learn later that some Pharisees did follow Christ. But the Pharisees as a group opposed Jesus. The next question likely indicates that the Pharisees, being far more concerned with law keeping than the religiously liberal Sadducees, had delegates here or had prompted this question.

25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

So essentially the question is this — you say your not Elijah and you aren’t the Prophet, then who gives you authority to baptize? Look at his answer in verse 26 and note again his humility in verse 27.

26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John didn’t defend his baptizing, he just pointed once again to Christ. So far they knew nothing of Jesus. But here comes John, and he’s baptizing, which is what the Jews did with those who were converts to Judaism in preparation for Messiah’s coming. They didn’t baptize Jews since they considered them to already be a part of God’s kingdom. So they come and question John and they’re wondering why he’s baptizing Jews. So their thinking was like this: “Why would you baptize Jews John since they don’t need baptizing; their already in the kingdom?”

The point is this. John’s baptizing work was only in anticipation of Jesus coming. John’s baptism was one more way he pointed people to the Christ.

Matthew’s Gospel records it for us like this in chapter 3 verses 6 & 11,

6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John’s baptism was simply an admission, by those being baptized, as they prepared for the coming Messiah, that they were indeed outside of God’s saving covenant, it was an outward, public expression of their repentance.

Now note with me once again that John is not talking about himself here. He says he only baptizes with water and then He points them to Jesus, one you do not know. Then in this amazing statement he says he’s not even worthy to untie the strap of the sandal of the one who’s coming. This was one of the lowliest, most demeaning acts you could imagine. This was something a servant did for his master.

Psalm 84:10 expresses the idea of what John is saying this way.

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Matthew Henry put it plainly when he wrote,

Note, The great business of Christ’s ministers is to direct all people to him; we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, electronic edition)

And he was echoing Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:5,

5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

We’re not worthy to untie His sandals or to be His lowly doorkeeper but He has graciously chosen us non-the-less to make straight the way of the Lord.

Beloved in Christ — we proclaim Jesus: the Christ.